The Internet & New Media

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By Akosua Kathryn Albritton
The following is a modified reprint from the September 2003 Wired For Success column.  It discusses practices to maintain optimal performance of IBM-compatible personal computers that run on MS Windows (sorry Linux, Mac OS and Amiga fans). It makes another run because maintenance is essential.
Computer Housekeeping
Personal computers and workstations have made a difference in our lifestyles.  Someone who couldn’t draw a heart with a crayon now produces fabulous calendars, seasonal cards and cartoons.  A bookkeeper can crunch out the cash receipt and cash disbursal journals in seconds.  Income statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements are cinches.  Have a stock market ticker tape glide through the bottom of your screen while you write your blog?  You want to go to New Guinea? Easter Island?  Micronesia?  Log into a newsgroup to learn about great travel expeditions into the rain forest, find out about the cheapest airfare and even take a three-dimensional tour of the island.  No need to mention the thousands of music titles that your I-pod or media player having waiting for you to groove to.  Yes, computers make life global and expedient, but what does it take to keep your personal computer work optimally?  It’s not too sexy.
Like it or not, if you own Microsoft Windows you must make the time to download the MS Windows patches and updates.  If a Windows 98 user, the PC will notify you that it’s time to check in for updates when you log onto the Web.  If a Windows XP user, the updates are automatically done.  You have to be willing to allow the site to check for “critical updates”.  Most of them are security measures and code to make the operating system more stable.  Sure, it may take more than an hour if you have a dial-up connection.  Don’t you want a computer that seamlessly prints, saves and simultaneously runs many applications without hanging?  Make that time to log in, select the download and then walk away and do something else.
Then there’s guarding against viruses and worms.  You ever wonder what kind of person gets satisfaction in crashing thousands of PCs?  Imagine some young man (sorry that’s the demographics), awake late at night, staring at his PC monitor and devising his “bomb”.  Need I go into detail about the ravages of SoBig (Did you wonder why you received so many “nondeliverable” messages last week for e-mail you didn’t send)?  The best step for the average computer user is to purchase and install virus detection software.  Again, you must respond affirmatively to the request to download the virus-definition and virus library.  It takes a few moments and is an important investment in time.  My personal plea: stop passing on forwards.  Forwards that require numerous “Opens” have gone through too many computers.  The chance is too great that you infect your computer and those you wish to share that “inspiring message” (yes, men just love those x-rated shots and women wish to raise the esteem of their sister-friends).  Also, a fire wall is a must if you have a DSL connection to the Internet.
Is the laptop or desktop running slower? Freezing or hanging upon shutdown?  System maintenance may resolve it.  Delete the temporary files in Windows and the temporary files from the temporary Web folder.  Scan disk the hard drive.  The last three jobs are defragmenting, optimizing and backing up the hard drive.  What does all that mean?  Straightening up the hard drive: putting parts of files closer together, moving files and folder in different parts of the memory based on your past usage.  Backing up is a full save of the hard drive and any other drive that you select.  There are many utility software that will do this for you in an orderly and expedient fashion rather than you remembering the different tasks.  Though Windows supplies the system with a maintenance application, it is a shadow to the other utilities sitting on store shelves.  Be aware that the hanging may be due to a conflict between software.  Frequently, the hanging is due to Norton AntiVirus.  Resolve the situation by visiting Microsoft’s web site and type in the error message.  If Norton AntiVirus is the cause, there are step-by-step instructions for changing a line of code.
As referenced above, error messages must be addressed.  The trick is getting past the idiosyncratic language to respond to the problem.  For example: “Notification Wnd for RNAdministration,” “Winword caused an invalid page fault in module.,” “STM3 is either working or waiting for a response from .”  What does this mean?  Who wants to learn?  On a certain level, the average computer user needs to learn it to avoid being a captive to the computer consultant.  Some error messages relate to a system application and others refer to software.  Frequently, uninstalling and then reinstalling software will resolve the situation.  It will require rebooting the system with each uninstall/reinstall.  Other cases may require going to the Web site of the software maker and accessing the “Knowledge Base.”  Knowing how to use the knowledge base is another adventure.
You don’t have to shout at this columnist about how horrid all this sounds.  This columnist grudgingly does it when it has to be done.  I learn much in the process.  You will too.  Now take care of your PC the way you care for your car.